A major component of all teacher early education programs is teaching children to read. It is a crucial skill that is a predictor of later success in life. Many studies have demonstrated that individuals who do not master basic reading skills in elementary school are more likely to live below the poverty level, have criminal records, and don’t continue their education.
Reading teachers often follow one of two primary courses of study – whole language and phonics. The whole language school of thought involves the meaning of words rather than the sounds that make up the words. Children are encouraged to utilize listening, writing, reading, and speaking skills to determine what the words are on a page. Phonics teaches the sounds that each letter and combination of letters make and how to combine them to make words.
Most educators prefer one method over the other, and there has been a debate for decades as to which is the better strategy. A recent review in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal found that both methods are integral to a complete understanding of reading.
The study found that new readers must learn that each letter has a sound, which is the essence of phonetic instruction. However, all readers, regardless of age, use decoding processes to decipher new words, which comprises the whole language method of teaching reading. Combining these strategies can be highly effective in helping students become better readers. Initiating phonics first and then gradually progressing to whole language learning can only benefit early readers.
Learning to read is a complex process. Helping students in whatever way teachers can is the goal. There are professional development programs online or at your local university to help educators who may not have the foundation in both methods of teaching reading.